Japan Faces 200-Year Wait for Fukushima Clean-Up

by Richard Lloyd Parry at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant

http://www.thetimes.co.uk (March 28 2015)

The chief of the Fukushima nuclear power station has admitted that the technology needed to decommission three melted-down reactors does not exist, and he has no idea how it will be developed.

In a stark reminder of the challenge facing the Japanese authorities, Akira Ono conceded that the stated goal of decommissioning the plant by 2051 may be impossible without a giant technological leap. “There are so many uncertainties involved. We need to develop many, many technologies”, Mr Ono said.

For removal of the debris, we don’t have accurate information [about the state of the reactors] or any viable methodology for that. But two hundred years ago, nobody would have imagined mobile phones – they wouldn’t have imagined that you could communicate with someone far away with that small device. I believe human beings have the capability to develop technologies where they are necessary. It may take 200 years, but I would say our target is thirty to forty years.

In the four years since the world’s second-worst nuclear disaster, Tepco, the company that operates the plant, has made some progress at Fukushima – but it continues to be embarrassed by leaks of radiation into the sea. In the latest revelation, Tepco admitted in February that highly radioactive rainwater had been washing into the Pacific from one of the reactors, and that it had covered it up for ten months.

Nonetheless, the temperature of the three melted-down reactors has been stabilised, and Tepco has begun the task of reducing and treating the huge amounts of contaminated coolant water and groundwater. Part of this is to be achieved by means of an “ice wall”: a thirty-meter deep underground barrier of vertical tundra to block groundwater from entering the stricken reactors. Overall radiation levels within the plant complex, and the surrounding countryside, have fallen to the extent that visitors can now stand outside the reactor buildings in protective suits and half-face masks, rather than the full-face masks which were formerly mandatory.

The greatest challenge, however, remains the dismantling of the three reactors, which melted down after their cooling systems were knocked out by the tsunami in March 2011. Recent scans of one revealed the worst possible result: all the nuclear fuel that was in the reactor’s furnace has melted and dripped down into the concrete outer containment vessel.

The resulting mess is so radioactive that it is impossible for humans to go near it. Tepco is relying, therefore, on the future development of robots that will be capable of entering the ruined reactors, removing the radioactive material, and placing it inside suitable storage vessels – which have also yet to be invented.

The alternative would be to seal the entire complex in a giant sarcophagus like the one covering Chernobyl – but it would have to extend underground to stop contaminated groundwater reaching the sea. The scale of the project is obvious from the number of personnel on the site, which has increased from 3,000 a day one year ago, to as many as 8,000 on some days.


Categories: Uncategorized

Planet of the Space Bats

2015/04/01 1 comment

by John Michael Greer

The Archdruid Report (March 25 2015)

As my regular readers know, I’ve been talking for quite a while now here about the speculative bubble that’s built up around the fracking phenomenon, and the catastrophic bust that’s guaranteed to follow so vast and delusional a boom. Over the six months or so, I’ve noted the arrival of one warning sign after another of the impending crash. As the saying has it, though, it’s not over ’til the fat lady sings, so I’ve been listening for the first notes of the metaphorical aria that, in the best Wagnerian style, will rise above the orchestral score as the fracking industry’s surrogate Valhalla finally bursts into flames and goes crashing down into the Rhine.

I think I just heard those first high notes, though, in an improbable place: the email inbox of the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA), the Druid order I head.

I have no idea how many of my readers know the first thing about my unpaid day job as chief executive – the official title is Grand Archdruid – of one of the two dozen or so Druid orders in the western world. Most of what goes into that job, and the admittedly eccentric minority religious tradition behind it, has no relevance to the present subject. Still, I think most people know that Druids revere the natural world, and take ecology seriously even when that requires scrapping some of the absurd extravagances that pass for a normal lifestyle these days. Thus a Druid order is arguably the last place that would come to mind if you wanted to sell stock in a fracking company.

Nonetheless, that’s what happened. The bemused AODA office staff the other day fielded a solicitation from a stock firm trying to get Druids to invest their assets in the fracking industry.

Does that sound like a desperation move to you, dear reader? It certainly does to me – and there’s good reason to think that it probably sounds that way to the people who are trying to sell shares in fracking firms to one final round of clueless chumps, too. A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal (available outside the paywall at {1}) noted that American banks have suddenly found themselves stuck with tens of millions of dollars’ worth of loans to fracking firms which they hoped to package up and sell to investors – but suddenly nobody’s buying. Bankruptcies and mass layoffs are becoming an everyday occurrence {2} in the fracking industry, and the price of oil continues to lurch down as producers maximize production for the sake of immediate cash flow.

Why, though, isn’t the drop in the price of oil being met by an upsurge in consumption that drives the price back up, as the accepted rules of economics would predict? That’s the cream of the jest. Here in America, and to a lesser extent elsewhere in the industrial world, four decades of enthusiastically bipartisan policies that benefited the rich at everyone else’s expense managed to prove Henry Ford’s famous argument: if you don’t pay your own employees enough that they can afford to buy your products, sooner or later, you’re going to go broke.

By driving down wages and forcing an ever larger fraction of the US population into permanent unemployment and poverty, the movers and shakers of America’s political class have managed to trigger a classic crisis of overproduction {3}, in which goods go begging for buyers because too few people can afford to buy them at any price that will pay for their production. It’s not just oil that’s affected, either: scores of other commodities are plunging in price as the global economy tips over into depression. There’s a specter haunting the industrial world; it’s the ghost of Karl Marx, laughing with mordant glee as the soi-disant masters of the universe, having crushed his misbegotten Soviet stepchildren, go all out to make his prophecy of capitalism’s self-immolation look remarkably prescient.

The soaring price of crude oil in the wake of the 2005 global peak of conventional oil production should have served notice to the industrial world that, to adapt the title of Richard Heinberg’s excellent 2003 summary of the situation, the party was over: the long era in which energy supplies had increased year over year was giving way to an unwelcome new reality in which decreasing energy supplies and increasing environmental blowback were the defining themes. As my readers doubtless noticed, though, the only people who willing to grasp that were out here on the fringes where archdruids lurk. Closer to the mainstream of our collective thinking, most people scrunched shut their eyes, plugged their ears with their fingers, and shouted – “La, la, la, I can’t hear you” at the top of their lungs, in a desperate attempt to keep reality from getting a word in edgewise.

For the last five years or so, any attempt to talk about the impending twilight of the age of oil thus ran headfirst into a flurry of pro-fracking propaganda. Fatuous twaddle about America’s inevitable future as the world’s new energy superpower took the place of serious discussions of the predicament into which we’ve backed ourselves – and not for the first time, either. That’s what makes the attempt to get Druids to invest their life savings in fracking so funny, in a bleak sort of way: it’s an attempt to do for the fracking boom what the fracking boom attempted to do for industrial civilization as a whole – to pretend, in the teeth of the facts, that the unsustainable can be sustained for just a little while longer.

A few months back, I decided to celebrate this sort of thinking by way of the grand old Druid custom of satire. The Great Squirrel Case Challenge of 2015 {4} solicited mock proposals for solving the world’s energy problems that were even nuttier than the ones in the mainstream media. That was no small challenge – a detail some of my readers pointed up by forwarding any number of clueless stories from the mainstream media loudly praising energy boondoggles of one kind or another.

I’m delighted to say, though, that the response was even better than I’d hoped for. The contest fielded more than thirty entries, ranging from the merely very good to the sidesplittingly funny. There were two winners, one chosen by the members of the Green Wizards {5} forum, one chosen by me; in both cases, it was no easy choice, and if I had enough author’s copies of my new book After Progress, I’d probably just up and given prizes to all the entries, they were that good. Still, it’s my honor to announce the winners:

My choice for best squirrel case – drumroll, please – goes to Steve Morgan, for his fine gosh-wow sales prospectus for, ahem, Shares of Hydrocarbons Imported from Titan {6}. The Green Wizards forum choice – drumroll again – goes to Jason Heppenstall for his hilarious parody of a sycophantic media story, King Solomon’s Miners {7}. Please join me in congratulating them. (Steve and Jason, drop me a comment with your mailing addresses, marked not for posting, and I’ll get your prizes on the way.)

Their hard-won triumph probably won’t last long. In the months and years ahead, I expect to see claims even more ludicrous being taken oh-so-seriously by the mainstream media, because the alternative is to face up to just how badly we’ve bungled the opportunities of the last four decades or so and just how rough a road we have ahead of us as a result. What gave the fracking bubble whatever plausibility it ever had, after all, was the way it fed on one of the faith-based credos at the heart of contemporary popular culture: the insistence, as pervasive as it is irrational, that the universe is somehow obligated to hand us abundant new energy sources to replace the ones we’ve already used so profligately. Lacking that blind faith, it would have been obvious to everyone – as it was to those of us in the peak oil community – that the fracking industry was scraping the bottom of the barrel and pretending that this proved the barrel was full.

Read the morning news with eyes freed from the deathgrip of the conventional wisdom and it’s brutally obvious that that’s what happened, and that the decline and fall of our civilization is well under way. Here in the US, a quarter of the country is in the fourth year of record drought, with snowpack on California’s Sierra Nevada mountains about nine percent of normal {8}; the Gulf Stream is slowing to a crawl {9} due to the rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheets; permanent joblessness and grinding poverty have become pervasive in this country {10}; the national infrastructure is coming apart after decades of malign neglect {11} – well, I could go on; if you want to know what life is like in a falling civilization, go look out the window.

In the mainstream media, on the occasions when such things are mentioned at all, they’re treated as disconnected factoids irrelevant to the big picture. Most people haven’t yet grasped that these things are the big picture – that while we’re daydreaming about an assortment of shiny futures that look more or less like the present with more toys, climate change, resource depletion, collapsing infrastructure, economic contraction, and the implosion of political and cultural institutions are creating the future we’re going to inhabit. Too many of us suffer from a weird inability to imagine a future that isn’t simply a continuation of the present, even when such a future stands knocking at our own front doors.

So vast a failure of imagination can’t be overcome by the simple expedient of pointing out the ways that it’s already failed to explain the world in which we live. That said, there are other ways to break the grip of the conventional wisdom, and I’m pleased to say that one of those other ways seems to be making modest but definite headway just now.

Longtime readers here will remember that in 2011, this blog launched a contest for short stories about the kind of future we can actually expect {12} – a future in which no deus ex machina saves industrial civilization from the exhaustion of its resource base, the deterioration of the natural systems that support it, and the normal process of decline and fall. That contest resulted in an anthology, After Oil: SF Stories of a Post-Petroleum Future, which found a surprisingly large audience. On the strength of its success, I ran a second contest in 2014 {13}, which resulted in two more volumes – After Oil 2: The Years of Crisis, which is now available, and After Oil 3: The Years of Rebirth, which is in preparation. Demand for the original volume has remained steady, and the second is selling well; after a conversation with the publisher, I’m pleased to announce that we’re going to do it again, with a slight twist.

The basic rules are mostly the same as before:

Stories should be between 2500 and 7500 words in length;

They should be entirely the work of their author or authors, and should not borrow characters or setting from someone else’s work;

They should be in English, with correct spelling, grammar and punctuation;

They should be stories – narratives with a plot and characters – and not simply a guided tour of some corner of the future as the author imagines it;

They should be set in our future, not in an alternate history or on some other planet;

They should be works of realistic fiction or science fiction, not magical or supernatural fantasy – that is, the setting and story should follow the laws of nature as those are presently understood;

They should take place in settings subject to thermodynamic, ecological, and economic limits to growth; and as before,

They must not rely on – “alien space bats” {14} – that is, dei ex machina inserted to allow humanity to dodge the consequences of the limits to growth. (Aspiring authors might want to read the whole – “Alien Space Bats” – for a more detailed explanation of what I mean here; reading the stories from one or both of the published After Oil volumes might also be a good plan.)

This time, though, I’m adding an additional rule:

Stories submitted for this contest must be set at least one thousand years in the future – that is, after March 25 3015 in our calendar.

That’s partly a reflection of a common pattern in entries for the two previous contests, and partly something deeper. The common pattern? A great many authors submitted stories that were set during or immediately after the collapse of industrial civilization; there’s certainly room for those, enough so that the entire second volume is basically devoted to them, but tales of surviving decline and fall are only a small fraction of the galaxy of potential stories that would fit within the rules listed above. I’d like to encourage entrants to consider telling something different, at least this time.

The deeper dimension? That’s a reflection of the blindness of the imagination discussed earlier in this post, the inability of so many people to think of a future that isn’t simply a prolongation of the present. Stories set in the immediate aftermath of our civilization don’t necessarily challenge that, and I think it’s high time to start talking about futures that are genuinely other – neither utopia nor oblivion, but different, radically different, from the linear extrapolations from the present that fill so many people’s imaginations these days, and have an embarrassingly large role even in science fiction.

You have to read SF from more than a few decades back to grasp just how tight the grip of a single linear vision of the future has become on what used to be a much more freewheeling literature of ideas. In book after book, and even more in film after film, technologies that are obviously derived from ours, ideologies that are indistinguishable from ours, political and economic arrangements that could pass for ours, and attitudes and ideas that belong to this or that side of today’s cultural struggles get projected onto the future as though they’re the only imaginable options. This takes place even when there’s very good reason to think that the linear continuation of current trends isn’t an option at all – for example, the endlessly regurgitated, done-to-death trope of interstellar travel.

Let us please be real: we aren’t going to the stars – not in our lifetimes, not in the lifetime of industrial civilization, not in the lifetime of our species {15}. There are equally good thermodynamic and economic reasons to believe that many of the other standard tropes of contemporary science fiction are just as unreachable – that, for example, limitless energy from gimmicks of the dilithium-crystal variety, artificial intelligences capable of human or superhuman thought, and the like belong to fantasy, not to the kind of science fiction that has any likelihood of becoming science fact. Any of my readers who want to insist that human beings can create anything they can imagine, by the way, are welcome to claim that, just as soon as they provide me with a working perpetual motion machine.

It’s surprisingly common to see people insist that the absence of the particular set of doodads common to today’s science fiction would condemn our descendants to a future of endless boredom. This attitude shows a bizarre stunting of the imagination – not least because stories about interstellar travel normally end up landing the protagonists in a world closely modeled on some past or present corner of the Earth. If our genus lasts as long as the average genus of vertebrate megafauna, we’ve got maybe ten million years ahead of us, or roughly two thousand times as long as all of recorded human history to date: more than enough time for human beings to come up with a dazzling assortment of creative, unexpected, radically different societies, technologies, and ways of facing the universe and themselves.

That’s what I’d like to see in submissions to this year’s Space Bats challenge – yes, it’ll be an annual thing from here on out, as long as the market for such stories remains lively. A thousand years from now, industrial civilization will be as far in the past as the Roman Empire was at the time of the Renaissance, and new human societies will have arisen to pass their own judgment on the relics of our age. Ten thousand years from now, or ten million? Those are also options. Fling yourself into the far future, far enough that today’s crises are matters for the history books, or tales out of ancient myth, or forgotten as completely as the crises and achievements of the Neanderthal people are today, and tell a story about human beings (or, potentially, post-human beings) confronting the challenges of their own time in their own way. Do it with verve and a good readable style, and your story may be be one of the ones chosen to appear in the pages of After Oil 4: The Future’s Distant Shores.

The mechanics are pretty much the same as before. Write your story and post it to the internet – if you don’t have a blog, you can get one for free from Blogspot {16} or WordPress {17}. Post a link to it in the comments to The Archdruid Report. You can write more than one story, but please let me know which one you want entered in the competition – there will be only one entry accepted per author this time. Stories must be written and posted online, and a link posted to this blog, by August 30, 2015 to be eligible for inclusion in the anthology.


John Michael Greer is the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America {18} and the author of more than thirty books on a wide range of subjects, including peak oil and the future of industrial society. He lives in Cumberland, Maryland, an old red brick mill town in the north central Appalachians, with his wife Sara.


{1} http://davidstockmanscontracorner.com/after-31-billion-fee-bonanza-wall-street-gets-indigestion-on-busted-energy-loans/

{2} http://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/100000-Layoffs-and-Counting-Is-this-the-New-Normal.html

{3} http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2015/03/shale-gas-orgy-production.html

{4} http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2015/01/march-of-squirrels.html

{5} http://www.greenwizards.org/

{6} http://spaceoilenergy.blogspot.com/2015/01/new-energy-venture-to-mine-oil-in-space.html

{7} http://barbarianmindzone.blogspot.co.uk/

{8} http://www.wunderground.com/news/california-snowpack-below-record-low-benchmark

{9} http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/03/23/global-warming-is-now-slowing-down-the-circulation-of-the-oceans-with-potentially-dire-consequences/?tid=rssfeed

{10} http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/daily-ticker/for-most-families–wealth-has-vanished-172130204.html

{11} http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/the-us-economy-is-under-threat-because-of-its-neglected-infrastructure-10125082.html

{12} http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2011/09/invasion-of-space-bats.html

{13} http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2014/01/return-of-space-bats.html

{14} http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2011/09/invasion-of-space-bats

{15} http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2007/09/solving-fermis-paradox.html

{16} http://www.blogspot.com/

{17} http://wordpress.com/

{18} http://www.aoda.org


Categories: Uncategorized

Japanese Government Bonds (“JGB”) Crashing

Biggest Surge in Yields in Two Years

by Tyler Durden

Zero Hedge (March 26 2015)

Whether due to contagion from the surge in US Treasury yields or a double whammy of weak household spending and Retail Trade data indicating that Abenomics is an utter failure is unclear, but yields across the entire JGB complex are spiking by the most in over two years. Ten-year yields are up almost nine basis points (not much you say) except that is from 32 to 41 basis points! Two-year and five-year JGB yields have roundtripped from last week’s Fed-driven plunge. Is the Bank of Japan cum Government Pension Investment Fund losing control of the largest and now most illiquid bond market in the world?

This is the biggest yield spike since the Taper Tantrum …

And stocks are spiking …

As the Nikkei has gained 4000 more points that the Dow in the last six months …

Chart: Bloomberg


Categories: Uncategorized

The New York Times Soft-Pedals the Dangers of the TPP

Yves here. While The New York Times did a public service by joining Wikileaks in publishing a draft chapter of the TPP {1}, this article is quite another matter. Joe Firestone has taken it upon himself to shred analyze it. The sad reality is that the Times is never going to oppose neoliberalism in a serious way.

by Joe Firestone

Naked Capitalism (March 29 2015)

Wikileaks did us all another service yesterday by releasing the “Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP): Investment Chapter Consolidated Text”, and collaborating with The New York Times to get the word out. Jonathan Weisman wrote the story for The New York Times. Apart from providing a very high level and very selective summary of what the chapter says, the article contains talking points used by proponents and opponents of the TPP. I think a close commentary on the article and associated issues would be useful. So here it is.

An ambitious twelve nation trade accord pushed by President Obama would allow foreign corporations to sue the United States government for actions that undermine their investment “expectations” and hurt their business, according to a classified document.

Why are we negotiating the TPP at all? Why is it the business of the Representatives of the people of the United States in Congress to support agreements that will mitigate the political risks borne by American businesses who chose to invest in other nations, as well as the political risks borne by foreign corporations, who choose to invest in the United States? Why is it their business to provide protection against such risks to foreign corporations beyond the protections we provide to our own corporations?

The “expectations” of business investors are their own business, not the public’s business; and there’s no reason why either the government of the United States or the governments of other nations should have to accommodate themselves to these expectations. If it is the will of the people of a nation as expressed through their representatives to pass legislation that destroys the “expectations” of business investors, then that’s just too bad for the investors.

Private businesses have no right to expect that their governments will protect them against risks that they alone choose to take, and that they alone will profit from. Risk is part of the game of investing. It’s business.

In free market ideology businesses are supposed to shoulder their risks. They’re not supposed to manipulate their political systems to get legislation providing them with financial protection at the expense of the public. That’s not capitalism, it’s lemon socialism; and it is also one of the key components of fascism.

How have we come to this pass that we view it as legitimate for American businesses to demand that the American public ought to ensure them against the business risks they take abroad? When did it become acceptable to insulate large multinational corporations against the hazards of their folly?

The Trans Pacific Partnership – a cornerstone of Mr Obama’s remaining economic agenda – would grant broad powers to multinational companies operating in North America, South America and Asia. Under the accord, still under negotiation but nearing completion, companies and investors would be empowered to challenge regulations, rules, government actions and court rulings – federal, state or local – before tribunals organized under the World Bank or the United Nations.

The TPP provides for three-judge “courts” {2} to conduct the dispute settlement proceeding. One of the judges is actually selected by the corporate plaintiffs. All of the judges are private attorneys who in other disputes may have represented corporate plaintiffs, and it is common for attorneys to be shifting roles from “corporate advocates” in one case to “judges” in another. Of course, the advocates get paid far more than the judges.

Can anyone imagine a more criminogenic environment than this, where all the incentives are aligned in such a way as to extract funds from state treasuries for the benefit of corporations and corporate attorneys alike? Where are the representatives of the various nation-states in these tribunals?

To add to the travesty, there are no limits on the tribunals in the size of the awards they can mandate. So, let’s get this straight, according to the TPP, tribunals staffed by private attorneys who frequently advocate for the very corporations whose complaints they are deciding upon have unconstrained authority to award damages of unlimited size to these same corporations and then the governments of the nations would be obligated to pay these awards. So, assuming present policies in effect for government financing in most nations including the United States, the governments would increase taxes or increase borrowing to pay these awards.

For example, in the case of the US currently, an award to a corporate plaintiff in the substantial billions, say $20 billion, would then cause the US to come up with that money. Meanwhile, the politicians would be begin to debate about where the money will come from. The Republicans, of course, will insist that the award must be paid for with austerity, and they will try to take the money out of entitlement programs, other safety net programs such as food stamps, unemployment insurance, and other welfare state legislation. They would refuse to tax the rich to finance this spending, and they would also refuse to reduce military spending, because … national security, of course.

So, tell me do we really want an international “trade agreement” that will expose the United States to unplanned levies from multinational corporations that would create budgetary political crises in the United States? Would any sane citizen want to take this risk, to mitigate the risks American investors take when they choose to invest overseas? Where does this craziness come from?

Backers of the emerging trade accord, which is supported by a wide variety of business groups and favored by most Republicans, say that it is in line with previous agreements that contain similar provisions. But critics, including many Democrats in Congress, argue that the planned deal widens the opening for multinationals to sue in the United States and elsewhere, giving greater priority to protecting corporate interests than promoting free trade and competition that benefits consumers.

Even if the TPP investment chapter is in line with previous agreements as stated, which may or may be entirely true, that doesn’t mean that the Congress ought to make the same mistake as it committed in previous trade agreements by approving investor state dispute settlement procedures that create unlimited liability for nation states and that provide biased quasi-legal procedures stacking the deck in favor of corporate complaints.

“We’ve done this before” is no defense of a proposed agreement among twelve nations that would expose the citizens of each of them to the risks that properly belong to foreign corporations, or American corporations operating in foreign nations for their own profit. Such corporations are guests in the nations they do business in. They should not be given advantages that aren’t enjoyed by domestic businesses.

“… the cover mandates that the chapter not be declassified until four years after the Trans Pacific Partnership comes into force or trade negotiations end, should the agreement fail”.

This is a true outrage. What justification of national security could possibly be brought to bear to justify classification of the TPP drafts, hiding the drafts from the Congress, as well as the people, and then keeping the proposed or actual agreement, if passed, secret so that the American people can’t even know what the law is that may result in international levies of many billions of dollars upon them. Passing the TPP, while retaining this secrecy would drive home the lesson to all that the United States is no longer a democracy where the people rule. We must stop the passage of secret laws and the promulgation of secret regulations, and we had better start with the TPP.

“This is really troubling”, said Senator Charles E Schumer of New York, the Senate’s Number Three Democrat. “It seems to indicate that savvy, deep pocketed foreign conglomerates could challenge a broad range of laws we pass at every level of government, such as made in America laws or anti-tobacco laws. I think people on both sides of the aisle will have trouble with this”.

The United States Trade Representative’s Office dismissed such concerns as overblown. Administration officials said opponents were using hypothetical cases to stoke irrational fear when an actual record exists that should soothe worries.

Whether a record exists or doesn’t isn’t relevant here. First, because something can present little trouble for years and then be a key factor in catastrophe. Remember derivatives? No mainstream economists saw anything wrong with them or with the ratings they received from the ratings agencies for years until the economy crashed in 2008. So, the past record of a disaster waiting to happen can indicate no problem, and suddenly we have a crisis on our hands.

But second, and even more importantly, however, the record to date can’t erase the vulnerabilities and risks presented by an agreement like the TPP. Is it or is it not true that, under the TPP, some future policy of the US Government might be challenged by a multinational corporation and that such a challenge might result (1) in an award of damages as high as $100 Billion or more, as well as (2) the negation of legislation that might save environmental damages either in the trillions, or so great as to be beyond price?

I think this possibility is clearly there, and that since this is the case it would be the height of social, environmental, and fiscal irresponsiblity, to pass the TPP and take such a risk. Especially, to pass an agreement whose concrete net benefits for the American people have in no way yet been demonstrated by its advocates. Also, it is very hard to see how they could be demonstrated without TPP advocates making public the whole text of the agreement, so people can see what it provides for and assess for themselves whether these are likely to bring any net benefits to the American people.

With the TPP Congress is being asked to buy the proverbial pig in the poke. Well, they’ve previously bought three highly touted free trade agreements, and none of them has delivered net benefits to the American people in terms of net jobs created, or a higher standard of living for most of the population, or greater economic equality. So, I think the Administration, really needs to answer the question “What’s in it for us?” in concrete terms without delivering the glittering and deceptive generalities this president is so skillful at offering.

Weisman goes on to relate the talking point of TPP advocates that investor stste dispute settlement provisions are already in 3000 trade agreements, and 51 in which the US participates including NAFTA. Opponents reply by pointing out that companies in nations that are parties to the agreements with the US thus far “… do not have the size, legal budgets and market power …” to challenge the United States. And then they point out that the TPP would change that because it would empower wealthy investors in nations like Australia and Japan who could engage in the necessary legal action.

Weisman then cites the Methanex case, in which this Canadian company sued California under NAFTA for $970 million, because the State banned the chemical MBTE in its water supply, thus interfering with Methanex’s future profits. California won this case in 2005, and proponents of the TPP point to this result as what will happen generally when environmental regulations are challenged under the TPP. However opponents also point to it as an example of what can happen when wealthy investors from Japan and other powerful nations challenge the US.

From my point of view, the critics have the better of this exchange because even though the State won in this action, and even granting that governments may win most of the time in cases on a scale as large or larger than that one, it only takes one such case, decided by a biased three-judge panel dominated by attorneys who primarily work for corporate clients to deliver a financial crisis to a State. What if California had lost that case? What programs would have had to be cut, or taxes raised to pay off Methanex, and why should American states or the Federal Government or state taxpayers be subject to such risks? Again, what’s in it for us?

But as long as a government treats foreign and domestic companies in the same way, defenders say, it should not run afoul of the trade provisions. “A government that conducts itself in an unbiased and nondiscriminatory fashion has nothing to worry about”, said Scott Miller, an international business expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who has studied past cases. “That’s the record”.

First, under the TPP, the government would not treat domestic and multinational corporations the same way, because the agreement would provide protections against risk that would not be accorded to domestic corporations, giving multinationals protections against political risks that Ameican corporations and investors would not have. And second, even if the record so far is that nations that treat multinationals without bias have no trouble with them, what is there in the treaty that guarantees this record in the future?

Why hasn’t such a guarantee of good behavior been written into it, so that we don’t have to trust multinational corporations to behave fairly? A trade agreement has to be evaluated on the vulnerabilities and risks it presents to the nations signing it, because sooner or later some wealthy investor in a multinational will take advantage of those vulnerabilities and make those risks turn to real and severe costs. After all, why should they not? The only duty they have is to profit, not to fairness or a particular nation’s public purpose.

Weisman points to the argument that while the US has been sued only seventeen times thus far under investor state provisions. US governments have been sued 700,000 times in US courts by corporations. It is a puzzle why proponents of the TPP think this is a good argument.

The US government allows corporate litigation in its own courts confident that multinational corporations will not have an unfair advantage there. Corporations must feel the same way since they have sued 700,000 times in these venues. But for reasons mentioned above, nations cannot expect fair treatment in the extra-judicial trade tribunals because they are staffed by paid corporate servants unaccountable to the people of the nations sued, including the people of the United States.

Under the terms of the Pacific trade chapter, foreign investors could demand cash compensation if member nations “expropriate or nationalize a covered investment either directly or indirectly”. Opponents fear “indirect expropriation” will be interpreted broadly, especially by deep pocketed multinational companies opposing regulatory or legal changes that diminish the value of their investments.

Included in the definition of “indirect expropriation” is government action that “interferes with distinct, reasonable investment backed expectations”, according to the leaked document.

“Investment” is defined so broadly in the TPP that it applies to any asset that is either owned or controlled. And since regulations always affect assets defined as broadly as this, the potential for legal action is there in relation to almost any new regulation that may be passed by any government. So, the significance of the TPP is that it places chains on democratic governments.

An example of what can happen under the TPP is Occidental Petroleum’s legal action against Ecuador:

The cost can be high. In 2012, one such tribunal, under the auspices of the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, ordered Ecuador to pay Occidental Petroleum a record $2.3 billion for expropriating oil drilling rights.

This case makes it clear that the extra-judicial trade tribunals, such as the ones envisioned in the TPP and the US-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty, under which this case was decided, can have considerable power over the economic life of nations. The blow taken by Ecuador in this decision is roughly equivalent in economic importance for Ecuador to an award of $340 billion assessed against the Government of the United States. Only it may be even worse for Ecuador, since it is not a currency sovereign having adopted the US Dollar as its currency not too long ago in its history. Instead, it is just a currency user, with the limited policy space of an American state or a Eurozone nation.

Is it responsible for any state to incur the risk of this much impact to its finances due to the action of an international trade tribunal? I can only imagine what the repercussions would be here if such a fine were assessed against the United States and the Congress decided that the fine has to be “paid for” rather than financed through borrowing or through using seigniorage. The blood would flow very swiftly on Capitol Hill if such a thing happened.

Under the Trans Pacific Partnership, a member nation would be forbidden from favoring “goods produced in its territory”.

This is the provision that would conflict with “Buy American” legislation, institutionalized here since the 1930s. For myself, I think that being able to favor domestic businesses over foreign ones is extremely important.

Free trade is an ideological commitment for many. But there’s no doubt that general implementation of free trade rules would prevent the government from legislating industrial policy, and more specifically would limit the policy space of the government in nurturing industries that it viewed as vital to the American future or to American national security. In view of this, I would never approve any agreement prohibiting the government favoring the products of American companies, if the government wanted to follow such a policy.

Being able to “Buy American” is an essential aspect of the sovereignty of the United States. And in my view Congress and the President have no right to give away this aspect of our sovereignty.

Weisman’s article goes on to discuss mitigating factors in the proposed TPP agreement. There appear to be three. First, the TPP proposes:

… clear transparency rules mandating that tribunals be open to the public and arbitration documents be available online. Outside parties would also be allowed to file briefs.

Transparency in the quasi-judicial proceedings of the TPP is certainly good, but it cannot heal damages that are occurring because of a faulty trade agreement. All it can do is aid in reform after the cow has left the barn.


… one article states that “nothing in this chapter” should prevent a member country from regulating investment activity for “environmental, health or other regulatory objectives”. But that safety valve says such regulation must be “consistent” with the other strictures of the chapter, a provision even administration officials said rendered the clause more political than legal.

So, no clear legal provision allowing provisions regulating investments for public purpose is in evidence. Any attempts to pass such legislation would be subject to the interpretations of investors and the corporation dominated tribunals.

And third,

… regulatory actions meant “to protect legitimate public welfare objectives, such as public health, safety and the environment” do not constitute indirect expropriation, “except in rare circumstances”. That final exception could open such regulations to legal second guessing, critics say.

That’s a little better. But the critics are surely right that the exception clause would open the way to endless claims asserting that a complaint is an “exception”. Considering the composition of the three judge panels, the exception clause clearly opens the way to corporate friendly decisions invalidating legislation pursuing “legitimate public welfare objectives”.

Most importantly, what those are would then be determined by the three judge panels and not by the processes of American democracy. In fact, any delegation of Congress’s authority to determine what laws will govern the United States to these three judge tribunals is giving away part of our sovereignty, and, in my view, exceeds Congress’s authority to delegate.

All of which brings me to one final issue. Is there anything in the TPP that would compromise the monetary sovereignty of the United States and subject us to the influence of the bond vigilantes in the international credit markets, now subordinate to the policies of the Federal Reserve and the Treasury in collaboration?

I think there is. Specifically, I don’t see anything in the TPP investment chapter requiring that damages be awarded in the sovereign currency of nations incurring damage awards for lost profits, but only that they be awarded in a “freely usable currency” {3} as specified by the IMF. That means, that complainants in these tribunals could ask for damages to be payable in foreign currencies, which the US would then owe in that currency.

Right now the US fuflfills the three essential conditions for monetary sovereignty: (1) it issues its own non-convertible currency, (2) which it allows to float on international currency markets; and 83) it owes no debts in any currency other than dollars.

So, it flows from these considerations, that passing the TPP would create the conditions for ending US monetary sovereignty for the first time since the international gold window was closed in 1971. So, to add to all other risks I’ve outlined, there is this one too. And for what? As far as I can see only for the purpose of protecting the investors in multinational corporations, both our own and those resident abroad.

In my view, this trade-off isn’t in accord with public purpose, and it gives away key aspects of the sovereignty of the United States. In addition, it undermines American democracy and takes another step down the true road to serfdom. Let’s not take that step. Instead, let’s send the TPPers packing, along with their brain child and their other current proposals, the TTIP and the TISA, two more contemptible spawn of rampant neoliberalism.


{1}: https://wikileaks.org/tpp-investment/WikiLeaks-TPP-Investment-Chapter.pdf

{2} http://www.isdscorporateattacks.org/#!judges/c1t77

{3} https://wikileaks.org/tpp-investment/WikiLeaks-TPP-Investment-Chapter.pdf


Joe Firestone, PhD is Managing Director, CEO of the Knowledge Management Consortium International (KMCI), and Director of KMCI’s CKIM Certificate program. He taught political science as the graduate and undergraduate level and blogs regularly at Corrente, Firedoglake and New Economic Perspectives.


Categories: Uncategorized

Why the Western Alliance is Ending

by Eric Zuesse

The Smirking Chimp (March 22 2015)

World leaders – heads of state especially – tend to be tactful people, whatever else might be said about them. When they discover that one of their number happens to be incredibly arrogant and psychopathic (and some leading psychopaths are skilled charmers; they’re not necessarily blatant about their aggressive intents like Hitler was), they don’t generally publicize the discovery of this unpleasant fact, because doing so would be worse than tactless: it would be downright stupid – it would jeopardize lots of the interdependencies that nations have with one-another. It would be counterproductive.

A good example of how they receive such negative information about one-another was provided by a telephone conversation on 26 February 2014 that was between Catherine Ashton, the EU’s Foreign Affairs chief, and her investigator, Urmas Paet, Estonia’s Foreign Minister, whom she had sent to Kiev when Ukraine’s democratically elected (though corrupt, as were all of his predecessors) President, Viktor Yanukovych, was overthrown in a very bloody sequence of events during January {1} and February {2} of 2014, and the question she needed an answer to now was whether this had been a revolution (authentically resulting from the Ukrainian public), or instead a coup (organized top-down, by “someone from the new coalition”, meaning a person who was on the side of the coalition against Yanukovych, the coalition that now controlled the Government). In other words: As the EU’s Foreign Affairs chief, Ashton needed to know whether the pro-EU coalition in Ukraine, who now were in control there, were in power because the Ukrainian public wanted them to be, or instead because they had seized power through those violent and, as yet, hard-to-understand, clashes, which might possibly have been orchestrated by “someone from the new coalition”.

That “coalition” were the leaders who had hoped that Yanukovych would seek to bring Ukraine into the EU. Just a few months earlier, Yanukovych had decided not to do that, but instead to continue Ukraine’s 1,200-year relationship with Russia {3}. (Kiev was known as “the cradle of Russian civilization”, and the origin of the Rus people {4} – those were the relocated Norsemen who had moved east and settled there (which is why so many Slavs are blond and why Hitler was an incredible bigot for worshipping the Norsemen while he despised the Slavs). It was a choice between Europe to the west, or Russia to the east; and Yanukovych had chosen to retain Ukraine’s ties to Russia. Ukraine is the main transit-route for Russian gas going into Europe, and received fees from Russia for that; Yanukovych chose to continue this; and he received, from Russia’s Gazprom company, steep discounts on Ukraine’s own gas-needs, as a further inducement for continuing that relationship. Polls of Ukrainians showed Ukrainians to be sharply divided about the issue, with western Ukraine strongly favoring to join the EU, and eastern Ukraine equally strongly favoring to stay with Russia. (For example, see this poll {5}.)

Here {6} is that phone-conversation, between Ashton and Paet, annotated by me to explain what they were referring to, and accompanied with a link to the phone-conversation itself, so that you can hear it if you wish.

As you can see (and hear) from that, Ashton was shocked to learn that it had been a coup that brought down Yanukovych, but she continued right on with the conversation, to other business, as if to indicate, “Well, let’s take care of less-disturbing matters, now”. It was clear from the conversation, up to that point, that Paet regretted needing to inform Ashton that the pro-EU side was actually controlled by some scoundrel (as yet unknown), and it’s clear that Ashton was shocked to hear this; but, as Ashton made evident from her response, she didn’t want to discuss this matter any further. These were two seasoned diplomats, and they both understood that there was nothing they could do about water already “under the bridge”, and on its way. But both of them realized, now, that its way was anything but democratic. This was useful information for Ashton to have, in her professional capacity for the EU.

She probably entertained a strong suspicion, even then, however, as to who was actually behind this coup (as she had only now learned it to have been). A few weeks before that phone-conversation, this youtube recording {7} of yet another phone-conversation, in which Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland, blurted to the US Ambassador to Ukraine, her infamous “F – k the EU” statement (which, of course, was also an insult to Ashton personally), included also Nuland’s instruction to Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt in Kiev, to get Arseniy Yatsenyuk appointed to run the post-coup Ukrainian Government (1:10 on the video {8}): “I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience; he’s the guy, you know, who, what he needs is Klitch and Tyahnybok on the outside, he needs to be talking to them four times a week”. To which, Pyatt promptly said “Yeah, I think that’s right. Okay.” He had his assignment.

This assignment ended up being fulfilled on 26 February 2014, just four days after the February 22nd coup.

Coincidentally, on the very same day when Ashton heard Paet tell her that it had been a coup, “Yats” publicly received the appointment to run Ukraine’s Government, but not as Ukraine’s President (since the previous one had just been overthrown and such an immediate and non-democratic replacement of him would have been too obviously a coup), but instead as Ukraine’s other top post: Prime Minister. Obama wanted Yats’s sponsor, Yulia Tymoshenko, to win the election to replace Yanukovych as President, when that post was put up for a vote in only the northeastern half of Ukraine, the half that favored the EU and the US over Russia. (It’s one of the reasons he had insisted she be released from prison from her corruption-conviction, immediately at the coup.) But she turned out to be too extreme in her Russia-hatred to be able to win even in just the northeast (the anti-Russian part of Ukraine); and, so, Obama had to settle for the slightly less racist-fascist anti-Russian, Petro Poroshenko, when he won on May 25th, and the Presidency was now downgraded to little more than a figurehead status.

Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin, knew everything that was going on: for example, both of those phone-conversations had been posted to youtube after having been recorded by Russian intelligence. So he took the action that he needed to take in order to enable the residents of Crimea, where Russia had had its main naval base since 1783, to vote on whether to rejoin Russia, of which they had been a part until the Soviet dictator Khrushchev donated Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 – a move that was extremely unpopoular in Crimea. Putin enabled them to hold a plebiscite in Crimea on 16 March 2014, which was declared by international observers to be free and fair; and the result was 96% to rejoin Russia – virtually the same percentage that was shown in opinion-polls of Crimeans. {9}

US President Obama wanted to punish Putin for taking this defensive measure against US aggression – against the anti-Russian coup in Ukraine. At first, the EU went along with the weakest sanctions that Obama pushed for against Russia, and they held out for as long as they could to delay the serious ones, until 17 July 2014, when the Obama regime in Ukraine sent up at least one fighter-jet and downed the MH17 Malaysian airliner over Ukraine’s conflict-zone and blamed it on pro-Russian separatists {10} who had been bombed for months by the Ukrainian regime {11} – the legend was that they had fired a “Buk” missile-launcher at the MH17 mistaking it for being one of Ukraine’s bombers. Not knowing that this had been yet another set-up job by the Obama-team, the EU now consented to join really stiff sanctions against Russia – on the theory that the downing wouldn’t have happened if Russia had not helped the separatists to do it.

But, then, EU leaders came to know that Obama had been behind this atrocity too.

What had started with Nuland’s “F – k the EU” was now the EU’s complicity with the racist-fascist, or ideologically nazi, anti-Russian coup-imposed Government that she and her boss Obama had placed into power in Ukraine {12}. A lot of influential people in Europe aren’t as accepting of nazism as Obama quite evidently is.

When it became clear – after two successive invasions of the resisting Ukrainian region, Donbass, both of which invasions failed to do anything other than to destroy the region that Ukraine claimed to be protecting against ‘Terrorists’ via Ukraine’s ‘Anti Terrorist Operation’ or ‘ATO’ for short – that assisting any further with America’s take-over of Ukraine would be not only war-criminal, but likely to lose, they started falling away from the entire effort.

Critically important in this regard was a 21 November 2014 vote in the UN on whether to condemn racist fascism, and especially to condemn Nazi Germany’s World War Two Holocaust against mainly Jews. Far-right racist nationalism has been booming recently; and, so, when the United States was one of only three countries – the US, Ukraine, and Canada – to vote against this resolution {13}, almost the entire world was shocked.

Clearly, now, President Obama, despite his liberal rhetoric, is far to the right of the vast majority of world-leaders, and is an insult to the memory of the US troops who died fighting Hitler in World War Two.

Among the first to abandon Obama on this, right on Christmas Eve, was Viktor Orban, Hungary’s leader {14}, who was outraged at Obama’s treatment of Hungary as if it were a vassal-state of the US Empire.

Then, on 3 January 2015, Milos Zeman, the Czech head-of-state {15}, joined with Orban in that.

Those countries had experienced Hitler’s horrors first-hand, and they don’t like nazis, not even ones (such as Obama) who speak liberal platitudes and have dark skins (and so aren’t a fit for the nazi stereotype – but only for the Big Lie extremity of nazism).

And, now, it seems to be the majority of the EU who are resisting Obama’s contemptuous treatment of every other nation than his or her own.

Then, on March 12th, Iceland terminated its candidacy for joining the EU {16}. The EU’s rightward bend toward the US seems to have been a big turn-off to Icelanders – they won’t touch even the EU.

On March 13th, Ukraine’s figurehead President announced that he had reached agreement with “a series of the EU countries on the supply of armament”; and, the next day, Russian Television reported that eleven of the 28 EU member-nations had agreed to supply Ukraine with weapons. Seventeen refused {17} Ukraine’s request for arms.

Then, on March 17th, WashingtonsBlog bannered, “Major American Allies Ignore US Pleas and Join China’s Alternative Bank {18}” and reported that UK, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, India, France, Germany, and Italy, had all agreed to join China’s newly-forming international-development bank competitor to Washington’s IMF and World Bank. China, ever since the US had started its Ukrainian proxy-war against Russia, has sided with Russia, against that war; and what this international conflict is really about is the continuance of the US dollar as the global reserve-currency {19}: Russia, China, and the rest of the BRIC countries – the rising developing economies – are seeking to replace the dollar-monopoly.

The Obama Administration has been twisting arms all over the world to try to block nations from signing onto China’s new world bank; and Obama’s getting rebuffed by all these nations, many of which have been traditional US allies, is a historic turn away from the American Empire that he is trying to ram down everyone’s throat.

And, on March 20th, Zero Hedge bannered, “US ‘Isolated’ As Key Ally Japan Considers Joining China-Led Bank” {20}. If this happens, then the American Empire will be all but over.

When President Bill Clinton virtually spat upon Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s historical heritage by joining with the Republicans’ war against Russia and inviting as many former Soviet-bloc nations into the US’s now anti-Russian (no longer anti-communist; communism was gone) military alliance, Nato, as possible, and he even terminated the FDR-era Glass-Steagall Act requirements that had blocked the big banks from gambling with taxpayers’ money and from their keeping only the winnings and transferring onto the Government the losses when their bets go bad, Clinton started what Obama is now trying to culminate; and, finally, at long last, the world-at-large is clearly telling this anti-FDR, aggressively imperialist, USA., to just shove its fascism down its toilet. More and more nations are saying, in effect: Good-bye, Uncle Sam; you’re not the nation you were during World War Two; you’ve instead become the global enemy; you’ve turned and become fascist yourself.

Among the few parts of Obama’s international rhetoric that are not fake, and that (because they are part of his anti-Russian propaganda campaign) express his actual fascist imperialist views – and which are increasingly being rejected – are these:

Bragging about his foreign policy, including his killing the Russia-friendly Muammar Gaddafi {21}: “Wherever we have been involved over the last several years, I think the outcome has been better because of American leadership … We are hugely influential; we’re the one indispensable nation. But when it comes to nation-building, when it comes to what is going to be a generational project in a place like Libya or a place like Syria or a place like Iraq, we can help, but we can’t do it for them.” [He pretends the US is a big international charity.]

Telling West Point cadets that Russia and the other BRICs are enemies {22}: “When a typhoon hits the Philippines, or schoolgirls are kidnapped in Nigeria, or masked men [that’s actually his own regime’s thugs] occupy a building in Ukraine, it is America that the world looks to for help. (Applause.) So the United States is and remains the one indispensable nation. That has been true for the century passed [he misspelled ‘past’] and it will be true for the century to come … Russia’s aggression toward former Soviet states unnerves capitals in Europe, while China’s economic rise and military reach worries its neighbors. From Brazil to India, rising middle classes compete with us, and governments seek a greater say in global forums … America’s willingness to apply force around the world is the ultimate safeguard against chaos.” [Development of underdeveloped countries is ‘chaos’ to him. Wow!]

To Wall Street’s CEOs, gathered in the White House {23}: “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks. [The public are here analogized to the KKK; and the banksters are instead being portrayed as the Blacks whom the KKK are trying to lynch] … I want to help … I’m not out there to go after you. I’m protecting you [against the ‘pitchforks’].”

Lies denigrating Russia and Putin {24}: “Immigrants aren’t rushing to Moscow in search of opportunity … The life expectancy of the Russian male is around sixty years old … The population is shrinking”.

His obsession to conquer Russia, as I reported it on 12 February 2015 {25}: “US President Barack Obama’s just-issued National Security Strategy 2015 uses the term ‘aggression’ precisely eighteen times, all but one of which are either explicitly, or else possibly, referring to Russia, as allegedly doing the alleged ‘aggression’ – never the US, and on only one occasion is he identifying North Korea with that term of opprobrium. Presumably, he thinks that Russia is by far the most ‘aggressive’ country.”

After the bloody coup that replaced Ukraine’s democratically elected President by a nazi regime a year ago {26}; and after that regime, serving Obama’s need for hiked EU sanctaions against Russia, shot down the MH17 Malaysian airliner on 17 July 2014 and slaughtered those 298 innocent people and blamed it all on Russian-supported separatists, all in order to further Obama’s bloody designs {27}, he now has the gall to accuse Putin of “aggression” for defending the residents of Crimea from the nazi {28} regime that Obama had installed.

And there’s so much other icing on this bloody cake. For example, Russia’s Sputnik News headlined on March 20th, “South Stream: Life After Death?” {29} and reported that the Obama regime was caught trying to instigate a coup to overthrow the current leader of Macedonia, who is balking against increasing sanctions on Russia, and who wants Macedonia to host a new pipeline for Russian gas into Europe.

And Sputnik News headlined the very next day, March 21st, “New OSCE Report on Ukraine Says Ukrainian Forces Obstruct Monitors’ Movement” {30}, and reported that, “OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission said on Saturday it was denied access to an east Ukrainian territory controlled by Ukrainian armed forces”. Obama is re-arming his Ukrainian stooge-regime for yet a third attempt at exterminating the residents of the area {31} of Ukraine that had voted ninety percent for the man he overthrew {32}.

Obama and his stooges apparently think that they can get away with everything. And Republicans in the US Congress complain not that he’s doing this, but instead that he’s not giving Ukraine enough weapons to do it.

And, all of this happened after Gallup international had polled 67,000 people in 65 countries in 2013 {33} (and never again) on “Which country do you think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today?” {34} and found that the US crushed the ‘competition’ on that, with three times as many repondents identifying the US as compared to the #2 nation, which was Pakistan. Russia wasn’t even listed in the news-reports (and the poll itself wasn’t made public), because the news-reports listed only the top six-mentioned nations, and Russia wasn’t among them. No doubt, this was one reason why Gallup yanked the question from their polling during 2014, especially after all of the international mayhem (including the coup in Ukraine) that the US perpetrated last year.

So: EU leaders are finally getting the message – and even Japan and Australia are.

When George W Bush put together a coalition of English-speaking countries to invade Iraq in 2003, nuclear weapons (other than the depleted uranium that we showered down upon Iraqis) weren’t an issue. Now, they definitely are {35}. And, more and more, the world’s leaders are trying to dispense with “the one indispensable nation”, so that they (and everyone) won’t be dispensed with, themselves.

It’s well-known that only aristocrats profit from wars. And O’Bomba represents them just as much as his Republican ‘opposition’ do. But, now, even the aristocrats in other nations are increasingly abandoning him. All he evidently still has going for him is liberal and Democratic fools in the United States, who haven’t yet figured out that he’s a Manchurian candidate, Trojan horse, ‘Democrat’, who (like the Clintons) would have FDR twisting in his grave if only he saw this. Fortunately, Roosevelt isn’t around to see it.

President O’Bomba might become even more isolated internationally than he is at home, where there are enough liberal fools to keep him barely aloft, and enough conservative fools to keep alive the myth that he’s a Marxist Muslim.

The US has become a nut-hatchery, and the foreigners (especially the leaders in the ‘dispensable’ countries) are beginning to notice. Even America’s former friends are no longer amused.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs Republican Economic Records, 1910 to 2010 {36}, and of Christ’s Ventriloquists: The Event that Created Christianity {37}.


{1} https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stK3YPz6WTc#t=25

{2} https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-RyOaFwcEw

{3} http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russia-Ukraine_relations

{4} http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kievan_Rus’

{5} http://www.bbg.gov/wp-content/media/2014/06/Ukraine-slide-deck.pdf

{6} http://fortruss.blogspot.com/2015/02/the-paet-ashton-transcript.html

{7} https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSxaa-67yGM

{8} https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSxaa-67yGM

{9} http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2014/12/npr-propagandizes-putin-regime-

{10} http://rinf.com/alt-news/editorials/western-news-suppression-downing-mh-17-malaysian-jet/

{11} http://rinf.com/alt-news/editorials/obama-definitely-caused-malaysian-airliner-downed/

{12} http://rinf.com/alt-news/editorials/obamas-ukrainian-stooges/

{13} http://rinf.com/alt-news/editorials/u-s-among-3-countries-u-n-officially-backing-nazism-israel-parts-company-germany-abstains/

{14} http://rinf.com/alt-news/featured/u-s-war-russia-now-hungary/

{15} http://rinf.com/alt-news/featured/czech-president-says-poorly-informed-people-dont-know-ukraine-coup/

{16} http://www.mfa.is/news-and-publications/nr/8377

{17} http://rinf.com/alt-news/featured/eu-splits-on-ukraine-how-and-why/

{18} http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2015/03/week-2-major-american-allies-ignored-u-s-pleas-joined-chinas-alternative-bank.html

{19} http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2014/06/u-s-re-started-cold-war-backstory-precipitated-ukraines-civil-war.html

{20} http://www.zerohedge.com/print/503586

{21} http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2014/12/obama-says-improving-world.html

{22} https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/05/28/remarks-president-west-point-academy-commencement-ceremony

{23} http://www.globalresearch.ca/obama-definitely-lied-about-having-intent-to-prosecute-banksters/5375269?print=1

{24} http://www.globalresearch.ca/obama-misrepresents-the-russian-economy/5408387

{25} http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2015/02/obamas-new-national-security-strategy-rabidly-anti-russian.html

{26} https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-RyOaFwcEw

{27} http://rinf.com/alt-news/editorials/western-news-suppression-downing-mh-17-malaysian-jet/

{28} https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPcilPbC0uA

{29} http://sputniknews.com/radio_red_line/20150320/1019788637.html

{30} http://sputniknews.com/europe/20150321/1019837084.html

{31} http://rinf.com/alt-news/featured/brookings-wants-villages-firebombed-ukraines-anti-terrorist-operation/

{32} http://observationalism.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Ukraine_historical_vs_electoral_2010.png

{33} http://www.globalresearch.ca/china-warns-u-s-to-stop-its-ukrainian-proxy-war-against-russia/5434582

{34} http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2015/03/gallup-u-s-population-highly-militaristic.html

{35} http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2014/06/indications-u-s-planning-nuclear-attack-russia.html

{36} http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1880026090/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1880026090&linkCode=as2&tag=thesmirkingchimp&linkId=SDEHPRRPOU2IWAZV

{37} http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007Q1H4EG/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B007Q1H4EG&linkCode=as2&tag=thesmirkingchimp&linkId=7E3LP33BMRDQTLVL

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Military Strategy? Who Needs It?

The Madness of Funding the Pentagon to “Cover the Globe”

by William D Hartung

TomDispatch (March 26 2015)

President Obama and Senator John McCain, who have clashed on almost every conceivable issue, do agree on one thing: the Pentagon needs more money. Obama wants to raise the Pentagon’s budget for fiscal year 2016 by $35 billion more than the caps that exist under current law allow.  McCain wants to see Obama his $35 billion and raise him $17 billion more. Last week, the House and Senate Budget Committees attempted to meet Obama’s demands by pressing to pour tens of billions of additional dollars into the uncapped supplemental war budget.

What will this new avalanche of cash be used for? A major ground war in Iraq? Bombing the Assad regime in Syria? A permanent troop presence in Afghanistan?  More likely, the bulk of the funds will be wielded simply to take pressure off the Pentagon’s base budget so it can continue to pay for staggeringly expensive projects like the F-35 combat aircraft and a new generation of ballistic missile submarines.  Whether the enthusiastic budgeteers in the end succeed in this particular maneuver to create a massive Pentagon slush fund, the effort represents a troubling development for anyone who thinks that Pentagon spending is already out of hand.

Mind you, such funds would be added not just to a Pentagon budget already running at half-a-trillion dollars annually, but to the actual national security budget, which is undoubtedly close to twice that.  It includes items like work on nuclear weapons tucked away at the Department of Energy, that Pentagon supplementary war budget, the black budget of the Intelligence Community, and war-related expenditures in the budgets of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Homeland Security.

Despite the jaw-dropping resources available to the national security state, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair General Martin Dempsey recently claimed that, without significant additional infusions of cash, the US military won’t be able to “execute the strategy” with which it has been tasked. As it happens, Dempsey’s remark unintentionally points the way to a dramatically different approach to what’s still called “defense spending”.  Instead of seeking yet more of it, perhaps it’s time for the Pentagon to abandon its costly and counterproductive military strategy of “covering the globe”.

A Cold War Strategy for the Twenty-First Century

Even to begin discussing this subject means asking the obvious question: Does the US military have a strategy worthy of the name?  As President Dwight D Eisenhower put it in his farewell address in 1961, defense requires a “balance between cost and hoped for advantage” and “between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable”.  Eisenhower conveniently omitted a third category: things that shouldn’t have been done in the first place – on his watch, for instance, the CIA’s coups in Iran and Guatemala that overthrew democratic governments or, in our century, the Bush administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq.  But Eisenhower’s underlying point holds. Strategy involves making choices.  Bottom line: current US strategy fails this test abysmally.

Despite the obvious changes that have occurred globally since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the US military is still expected to be ready to go anywhere on Earth and fight any battle.  The authors of the Pentagon’s key 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), for instance, claimed that its supposedly “updated strategy” was focused on “twenty-first-century defense priorities”. Self-congratulatory rhetoric aside, however, the document outlined an all-encompassing global military blueprint whose goals would have been familiar to any Cold War strategist of the latter half of the previous century. With an utter inability to focus, the QDR claimed that the US military needed to be prepared to act in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, the Asia-Pacific, and Latin America. In addition, plans are now well underway to beef up the Pentagon’s ability to project power into the melting Arctic as part of a global race for resources brewing there.

Being prepared to go to war on every continent but Antarctica means that significant reductions in the historically unprecedented, globe-spanning network of military bases Washington set up in the Cold War and after will be limited at best. Where changes happen, they will predictably be confined largely to smaller facilities rather than large operating bases.  A planned pullout from three bases in the United Kingdom, for instance, will only mean sending most of the American personnel stationed on them to other British facilities.  As the Associated Press noted recently, the Pentagon’s base closures in Europe involve mostly “smaller bases that were remnants of the Cold War”. While the US lost almost all its bases in Iraq and has dismantled many of its bases in Afghanistan, the Pentagon’s base structure in the Greater Middle East is still remarkably strong and its ability to maintain or expand the US troop presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan shouldn’t be underestimated.

In addition to maintaining its huge network of formal bases, the Pentagon is also planning to increase what it calls its “rotational” presence: training missions, port visits, and military exercises. In these areas, if anything, its profile is expanding, not shrinking. US Special Forces operatives were, for instance, deployed to 134 nations, or almost seventy percent of the countries in the world, in fiscal year 2014. So even as the size and shape of the American military footprint undergoes some alteration, the Pentagon’s goal of global reach, of being at least theoretically more or less everywhere at once, is being maintained.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has stepped up its use of drones, Special Forces, and “train and equip” programs that create proxy armies to enforce Washington’s wishes. In this way, it hopes to produce a new way of war designed to reduce the Pentagon’s reliance on large boots-on-the-ground operations, without affecting its strategic stretch.

This approach is, however, looking increasingly dubious. Barely a decade into its drone wars, for example, it’s already clear that a drone-heavy approach simply doesn’t work as planned.  As Andrew Cockburn notes in his invaluable new book, Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins (2015), a study based on the US military’s own internal data found that targeted assassinations carried out by drones resulted in an increase in attacks on US forces.  As for the broader political backlash generated by such strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere, it’s clear enough by now that they act as effective recruitment tools for terror organizations among a fearful and traumatized population living under their constant presence.

At a theoretical level, the drone may seem the perfect weapon for a country committed to “covering the globe” and quite literally waging war anywhere on the planet at any time.  In reality, it seems to have the effect of spreading chaos and conflict, not snuffing it out. In addition, drones are only effective in places where neither air defenses nor air forces are available; that is, the backlands of the planet.  Otherwise, as weapons, they are sitting ducks.

A Pentagon for All Seasons

Washington’s strategy documents are filled with references to non-military approaches to security, but such polite rhetoric is belied in the real world by a striking over-investment in military capabilities at the expense of civilian institutions. The Pentagon budget is twelve times larger than the budgets for the State Department and the Agency for International Development combined.  As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has noted, it takes roughly the same number of personnel to operate just one of the Navy’s eleven aircraft carrier task forces as there are trained diplomats in the State Department. Not surprisingly, such an imbalance only increases the likelihood that, in the face of any crisis anywhere, diplomatic alternatives will take a back seat, while a military response will be the option of choice, in fact, the only serious option considered.

In the twenty-first century, with its core budget still at historically high levels, the Pentagon has also been expanding into areas like “security assistance” – the arming, training, and equipping of foreign military and police forces.  In the post-9/11 years, for instance, the Pentagon has developed a striking range of military and police aid programs of the kind that have traditionally been funded and overseen by the State Department. According to data provided by the Security Assistance Monitor, a project designed to systematically track US military and police aid, the Pentagon now delivers arms and training through eighteen separate programs that provide assistance to the vast majority of the world’s armed forces.

Having so many ways to deliver aid is handy for the Pentagon, but a nightmare for members of Congress or the public trying to keep track of them all.  Seven of the programs are new initiatives authorized last year alone. More than 160 nations, or 82% of all countries, now receive some form of arms and training from the United States.

In a similar fashion, in these years the Pentagon has moved with increasing aggressiveness into the field of humanitarian aid.  In their new book Mission Creep: The Militarization of US Foreign Policy? (2014) Gordon Adams and Shoon Murray describe the range of non-military activities it now routinely carries out. These include “drilling wells, building roads, constructing schools and clinics, advising national and local governments, and supplying mobile services of optometrists, dentists, doctors, and veterinarians overseas”.  The specific examples they cite underscore the point: “Army National Guardsmen drilling wells in Djibouti; the US Army Corps of Engineers building school houses in Azerbaijan; and US Navy Seabees building a post-natal care facility in Cambodia”.

If one were to choose a single phrase to explain why General Dempsey thinks the Pentagon is starved for funds, it would be “too many missions”.  No amount of funding could effectively deal with the almost endless shopping list of global challenges the US military has mandated itself to address, most of which do not have military solutions in any case.

The answer is not more money (though that may not stop Congress and the president from dumping billions more into the Pentagon’s slush fund).  It’s a far more realistic strategy – or put another way, maybe it’s a strategy of any sort in which the only operative word is not “more”.

The Pentagon’s promotion of an open-ended strategy isn’t just a paper tiger of a problem.  It has life-and-death consequences and monetary ones, too.  When President Obama’s critics urge him to bomb Syria, or put more ground troops in Iraq, or arm and train the security forces in Ukraine, they are fully in line with the Pentagon’s expansive view of the military’s role in the world, a role that would involve taxpayer dollars in even more staggering quantities.

Attempting to maintain a genuine global reach will, in the end, prove far more expensive than the wars the United States is currently fighting.  This year’s administration request for Iraq War 3.0 and Syria War 1.0, both against the Islamic State (IS), was a relatively modest $5.8 billion, or roughly one percent of the resources currently available to the Department of Defense.  As yet not even John McCain is suggesting anything on the scale of the Bush administration’s intervention in Iraq, which peaked at over 160,000 troops and cost significantly more than a trillion dollars.  By comparison, the Obama administration’s bombing campaign against IS, supplemented by the dispatch of roughly 3,000 troops, remains, as American operations of the twenty-first century go, a relatively modest undertaking – at least by Pentagon standards.  There are reasons to oppose US military intervention in Iraq and Syria based on the likely outcomes, but so far intervention in those nations has not strained the Pentagon’s massive budget.

As for Ukraine, even if the administration were to change course and decide to provide weapons to the government there, it would still not make a dent in its proposed $50 billion war budget, much less in the Pentagon’s proposed $534 billion base budget.

Using the crises in Ukraine, Iraq, and Syria as arguments for pumping up Pentagon spending is a political tactic of the moment, not a strategic necessity.  The only real reason to bust the present already expansive budget caps – besides pleasing the arms industry and its allies in Congress – is to attempt to entrench the sort of ad hoc military-first global policy being promoted as the American way for decades to come.  Every crisis, every development not pleasing to Washington anywhere on Earth is, according to this school of thought, what the Pentagon must be “capable” of dealing with. What’s needed, but completely dismissed in Washington, is of course a radical rethinking of American priorities.

General Dempsey and his colleagues may be right.  Current levels of Pentagon spending may not be able to support current defense strategy.  The answer to this problem is right before our eyes: cut the money and change the strategy.  That would be acting in the name of a conception of national security that was truly strategic.


William D Hartung, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. His most recent book is Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex (2012).

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me (2014), and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (2014).

Copyright 2015 William Hartung

(c) 2015 TomDispatch. All rights reserved.


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